We had an action packed first day in Berlin. We woke up for a 6am Train, spent over 4 hours discovering the alternative side of berlin, and we walked along the East Side Gallery. After a good night’s sleep at Hotel Gates, it was time to start day 2. Day 2 was all about learning about Berlin’s tumultuous history. So we headed off to the Discover Berlin Half Day Walking tour.
Booking and Price
We booked our Berlin walking tour through Viator. But it can also be booked directly though Original Berlin Walks. They offer 15 different tours and, at least from our experience, their tour guides are extremely knowledgeable about Berlin’s past and present. This 4 1/2 hour tour will run you about $16 whether you book it through Original Berlin Walks or Viator. This price is a great deal for over 4 hours of non-stop information.
More About Berlin
When writing about Berlin in my review of the Alternative Tour, I said that Berlin is the most interesting city in Europe. I absolutely have to reiterate that here. For some reason Berlin only gets only 1/3 of the tourism that Bavaria (Munich) gets per year, and that astounds me. Berlin is truly the center of modern European History. Berlin was right at the crux of World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. Given this, it is extremely unique and dichotomic.
Berlin is a living example of the horrors of war, the tragedy of persecution, of genocide, and the stark differences between communism and capitalism. For that reason if you are planning a trip to germany, you do yourself a disservice by skipping past Berlin.
Discover Berlin Walking Tour
Pre World War I
The Discover Berlin Walking Tour start near that Hackescher Markt S-Bahn Station in East Germany. Our Guide gave us an overview of what we would see in this action packed tour. Essentially this 4 1/2 hour tour would pack in almost all of the major Berlin Historical Sites. From there we walked through the Mitte neighborhood of berlin and we received an overview of Germany/Berlin’s history Pre-World War one.
This took us through the beautiful and unique Museum Island and past the Berlin Cathedral. At this point he gave us a history of Germany through World War I. From the 1870s through World War I, Germany was part of the German Empire. The German Empire consisted of parts of present day, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Czech Republic, and Poland. Once defeated in WWI the German Empire was broken up and present day germany became the Weimar Republic.
The Weimar Republic
Our walking tour continued towards the Brandenburg Gate we passed several famous german landmarks including Neue Wache (Memorial for war victims), the Berlin Opera House, Humboldt University, the Ampleman Store (more on this later), Unter den Linden, and the former soviet embassy.
At several points in this portion of the Berlin walking tour we learned about the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler to Chancellor. The Weimar Republic was never politically stable. Throughout its short existence, there was a strong push from extremists for it to a communist system. This push was intensified by the effects of the great depression. A growing desire to protect the republic from these extremists led to National Socialist Party to getting significant support and Adolf Hitler becoming Chancellor.
World War II
By the time we got the Brandenburg Gate we were at the point where the Nazi’s took Power.
Our Berlin Walking tour continued on to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This an extremely odd and large memorial, but very intriguing. It is 200,000 square feet of land that is covered with 2,711 concrete slabs laid out in a grid. The land itself is uneven and the slabs are all of different heights.
From the outside of the memorial it looks chaotic, uneven, and chaotic.
But the second you step inside the slabs it becomes extremely eerie. When I was walking among the slabs, the sound of outside world faded away. It was just me in what felt like a graveyard. What looks like chaos from the outside is complete and utter uniformity the second you step in. It is extremely haunting and somber.
There are many interpretations of the Memorial, and some have argued this memorial is completely inadequate for its purpose. Our tour guide encouraged us to form our own meanings and decision when it comes to the memorial. Stressing that everyone interprets things differently and pays their respects in their own unique way. Personally I thought it showed what the holocaust did to the Jewish People. Every victim of the Nazi’s was unique and every one was different. This is captured by the uneven ground and different heights on the stones. The Nazis stripped away their individualism, their identity, and making them uniform. This is what you see inside the memorial.
Regardless of your opinion on it, it is worth seeing, worth exploring, and worth giving some time for reflection.
Post World War II
We then traveled to the most famous parking lot in Berlin. This is the site of Hitler’s Bunker where he took his life. This signified our tour moving on to the Cold War. After WWII the Allies split germany into east and west. Berlin, being the capital city, also was split between east and west.
This split is what makes Berlin extremely interesting, and is also what made this tour extremely interesting. Our tour guide was Born in East Berlin shortly before the wall fell.While he was still young when this happened, he was still able to provide a very unique perspective. Raised by parents and grandparents who lived their entire lives in the East, his view of things was slightly different just based on how he grew up. He provided a lot of insight on eastalgia (a nostalgic feeling for the remaining aspects of East Berlin).
At this point of the tour we walked and learned about the Nazi Air Ministry,the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and the death strip. The death strip refers to the area between East Germany and the Berlin Wall that was essentially a no man’s land. The East Berlin immediately police killed anyone seen in the death strip. About 140 people died in the death strip trying to escape to West Berlin.
This is where the tour ended. With the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Discover Berlin Walking Tour was an extremely good introduction and overview to why Berlin is one of the most interesting cities in Europe. For only $16 you get 4.5 hours of non-stop history provided by an extremely well versed tour-guide who is truly an expert on Berlin. This tour combined with the Alternative tour really made me fall in love with Berlin as travel destination.